Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
What if the President’s son fell in love with the second son of Britain’s ruling family? That’s the central premise of Red, White, and Royal Blue, and if it’s not enough to make you want to pick up the book immediately, don’t worry. Despite the many accolades this book has received, I started this quite reluctantly as a book group read. I then promptly read it in one day, complete with staying up two hours after bedtime…
There is something very addictive about McQuiston’s first book. Part of it is the alternate world she has built; while the politics feel very real (a main plot point hangs on whether or not Texas will ‘go blue’ in a Presidential election), they’re soothing the way West Wing was – everyone is smart, capable, and mostly not evil. Meanwhile, the real British royal family has been replaced. It’s two sons and a daughter rather than William and Harry – but otherwise, not much has changed.
But mainly, it’s all about Alex and Henry. Alex is a brash political science student, well aware of his charms and accustomed to using them. Henry is quiet, introverted, and resigned to playing the role his family has laid out for him. At first, Alex detests Henry, until he begins to realize that his obsession with the Prince has less to do with hatred and much more with attraction and admiration. It’s their journey from enemies forced to act nice for the press to friends to lovers that drives the book, and it’s incredibly difficult to put it down. Recommended if you’d like a political fairy tale told with humor and intelligence.
Devotions by Mary Oliver
When Mary Oliver passed away earlier this year, you may well have seen snippets of her most famous works passed around on social media – “tell me, what is it that you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” was the one I saw most often. I couldn’t resist reading more and picked up Devotions, a collection spanning her career.
Somehow, Oliver manages to both be everywhere and overlooked; her unassuming, accessible style seems to have kept her out of the canon (of, let’s face it, largely “difficult” male poets) but appeals broadly. Her topics are those of an ordinary life: walks in the wood and along the beach, the change of seasons, the companionship of a good dog. But she uses the ordinary to probe life’s deep questions and her faith, and she grounds the ephemeral in the natural world, with nearly all her work showing her deep connection to the American landscape.
Even if you think you don’t like poetry, I highly recommend Devotions. This is a collection that particularly lends itself to flipping through until you find the one poem you happen to need to read that day. Expertise is not needed, just patience and a willingness to appreciate the work.
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
When one of the greatest conductors dies mid-show at La Fenice, the great opera house in Venice, Italy, everybody has to know what happened! It’s up to Guido Brunetti, vice-commissario of police and genius detective, to figure it out, but he can’t do it alone.
As the story unfolds in Death at La Fenice, a dark past of Maestro Helmut Wellauer comes to light, but it’s unclear that anyone could have walked into his dressing room and killed him.
Originally from Germany, Wellauer and his third wife are known to everyone around. He’s known among the Opera world for his homophobia and his ability to destroy careers for those he sees unfit! You’ll learn just how much control the conductor really has in a performance.
But is the secret to his death and his murderer to be found in his second wife’s suicide? In the long-forgotten pre-WWII singer he shamed out of the public’s eye? Or with the American woman who Brunetti just can’t seem to trust?
While the truth is a bit disturbing, the storyline and writing of Donna Leon is an absolute joy. You’ll find yourself smiling at her ability to make you feel as though you’re in the room with the characters or that you’ve known another all your life. It isn’t so much in lengthy descriptions, but the perfect turns of phrase that have you captivated! Brunetti’s character is lovable and you secretly wish his wife was your best friend!
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